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Cadillac ATS-V: Driven

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  • Cadillac ATS-V: Driven

    This is the era of globalisation, where you can buy the same iPad or Starbucks Frappuccino in Austria or in Zambia. Yet, frustratingly, some performance cars are still denied to us, including most of those built in the US. This goes two ways, of course - some Americans are equally frustrated at not being able to buy Civic Type Rs or SEAT Leon Cupras. But when a car feels as ready for Europe as the Cadillac ATS-V, it's still a grating irritation.

    Oooh, moody

    The what?
    First, an introduction. Cadillac's off-on-off-on-off-on-off relationship with the European market - and its current absence - means we don't get exposed to the standard ATS, which is broadly equivalent to the BMW 3 Series and 4 Series with both saloon - sorry, sedan - and coupe variants. The ATS-V is the full-on performance version, powered by a 464hp turbocharged V6. So yes, a US rival to the M3and M4.
    It's certainly not short on visual aggression. The standard ATS is already on the wedgy side of edgy and the V takes it somewhere past the next level. The front end seems to be all grille, there are 18-inch alloys and a punchy bodykit that makes the saloon look like a slightly reduced version of the bigger CTS-V. The coupe has the same front end and then, behind that, an angular charm that - to these eyes at least - is interesting enough to overcome the fact it's not what you'd call conventionally good looking.
    The interior is less convincing, although a huge step forward from earlier Cadillacs. It's not that long since I was sitting in a first generation CTS ahead of its proposed launch into Europe next to a senior Cadillac manager. He asked me what I thought of the craptacular cabin quality and - being young and naïve enough to think he would appreciate the unvarnished truth - I told him, triggering a minor diplomatic incident.
    The ATS-V is much better, but it's still too much of a stretch to say it's on a par with the Europeans. There are lots of soft-touch materials and even - in the car I tested - some Bentley style polished metal trim. But your fingers don't need to wander far to find some cheap, oily plastics too, and the white-on-black analogue instruments could have come straight from a 90s Nissan. The 'CUE' touchscreen interface is pretty irritating too, requiring you to navigate several sub-menus to do things like change radio station...

    Coupe going straight for M4 and RC F

    Driving range
    Six cylinders: discuss. The strange thing about the decision to fit the ATS-V with a V6 is that GM isn't exactly short of light, powerful V8s. This follows the lead set by BMW with the M3 and M4 of course, but stands in contrast to the decision by Merc and Lexus to stick with eights. The motor certainly isn't short on firepower, even if it feels a bit rough around the edges. There's a six-speed manual box but the saloon I drove had an eight-speed auto.
    On road the ATS-V quickly proves itself to be seriously effective. No, it doesn't have the mechanical charisma of its Teutonic rivals; the engine is more about torque than top end and revs out just past the 6,000rpm mark. But with a peak 464hp on tap it out-guns the M3/M4 and is almost on a par with the C63. The engine can't match the near-instant responses of the BMW either. But after a brief delay while the turbos spool up - and the transmission works out which gear to deliver in drive - it pulls more than hard enough to make you believe the claimed 3.8-second 0-60mph time and 185mph top speed.
    Praise for the chassis is unambiguous. There's huge grip, a nicely judged handling balance and superb body control. The switchable dampers worked extremely well in both their normal and sport mode, handling some of Michigan's roughest back roads without breaking sweat. It's no coincidence that the same route is apparently a favourite of GM's chassis engineers) It's definitely not a wafter; this isn't one of those Caddies you can drive with one finger while holding an unspilled drink, and the firmest 'Track' mode is a bit Ronnie Pickering; too much for road use.
    The variable ratio steering is very fast-geared around the straight ahead, but once you're dialled into the keenness of the front-end responses it delivers you also appreciate its accuracy. It also makes it easy to maintain directional discipline if you also choose to let the torque overwhelm the grip of the rear tyres, with a strong caster effect helping to keep it locked to the direction the front wheels are going on. The downside of that is the need to hang on over rougher surfaces as the wheel responds to bumps and cambers.

    Not lacking on circuit either. Ahem

    The brake pedal feels very firm and there's not much movement in it, but it's easy to modulate and delivers solid retardation when you start to lean on it. Oh, and in 'manual' mode the transmission suffered a noticeable delay when instructions were issued via the steering wheel paddles.
    Kiss and make up?
    It's the same with all on-off relationships; now Cadillac has left the UK it suddenly seems more appealing. It's a shame that, after years of trying to flog us cars that we didn't really want (BLS, anyone?) the brand has become interesting during one of its European intermissions. The ATS-V is the exact opposite of the XXL land yachts that made the brand famous and, although I'm not suggesting there's huge pent-up demand over here and the ATS-V would outsell the M3 and the C63, it's easy see the appeal in its combination of performance and, well, differentness. Fingers crossed GM takes the brave pills and tries for another UK relaunch...

    : 3,564cc twin-turbocharged V6
    Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive (8-speed auto optional)
    Power (hp): 464@5,850rpm
    Torque (lb ft): 445@3,500rpm
    0-60mph: c. 3.8 secs (claimed)
    Top speed: 185mph (claimed)
    Weight: 1,678kg
    MPG: NA
    CO2: NA
    Price: $61,460 (£40,000 at current exchange rates. Depressingly)
    The forum by ATS-V owners for ATS-V owners!